Stunning Native American Portraits

In the process of cataloging a collection of over-sized volumes (folios) from the Watkinson Library I have discovered several items of interest.  Because of their size many folios have remarkable illustrations or maps.  Pictured here is a portrait from McKenney and Hall’s History of the Indian Tribes of North America, published in Philadelphia, 1837-1844. This 3 volume set contains 120 colored lithograph portraits copied after paintings by Charles Bird King in the Indian Gallery of the U.S. War Department.   When noteworthy Indians visited Washington it became the custom to have their portraits painted.  Thomas McKenney was the superintendent of Indian Affairs at the time and got to know some of the people of the native nations.  The book also contains biographical sketches by McKenney and a history of the tribes by James Hall.

–Sally Dickinson, Special Collections Librarian, Watkinson Library

[NB:  Most of the original portraits were destroyed in a fire at the Smithsonian in 1865, so the set is a vital historical record.  –R. Ring, Head Curator].


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